Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Will the Real Ruby Tuesday Please Stand Up?

Remember when rock music was kinda bad & dangerous?  Of course, at its best, it still can be.  But, for better or worse, much of what’s now marketed as “classic rock” has become an institution—a strange twist, because so many of the classic rockers railed against institutions.

One of the ways this change seems most apparent is the trend to use rock songs in commercials.  Now, I don’t begrudge someone trying to make a buck off his/her music—
I certainly try to do so!—but can you hear a song the same way after hearing it in an ad?  At that point, has a good song become a “jingle?”  Has it been somehow triviliazed & sanitized, or does it still retain its original power? 

Seems like a fair question, especially as the boomers age & their music—60s && 70s rock—becomes a sort of cultural soundtrack.  As a cultural soundtrack, those songs have a lot of mojo, but in many cases, that mojo seems to be put to “commercial” use (pun intended).  Here’s a very short & select list of “classic rock” songs that have been put to the use of making “the man” (in the man’s guise as corporation) more bucks:

Come Together-The Beatles: AT & T Wireless    
Rock & Roll-Led Zeppelin: Cadillac    
Pink Moon-Nick Drake: Volkswagen (admittedly, a special case, as Mr Drake has been gone for a number of years—& the fact that in the month following the commercial's first airing more Drake records sold than in the previous 30 years is not a bad thing)
Young Americans-David Bowie: Fidelity Investments    
Baba O'Riley (aka Teenage Wasteland)-The Who: Hewlett Packard (this seems particularly ironic)
Sunshine of Your Love-Cream: Touch of Gray Hair Color    
You Can't Always Get What You Want-The Rolling Stones: Coca Cola  

Speaking of the Rolling Stones—like the Who, bad boys par excellence in their heyday—we also have the Ruby Tuesday chain of restaurants.  Now I actually like that song —at times in my life, the song has had meaning that is quite separate from associations with buffalo wings or burgers.  Is there any way for a song to come back after its title is used for a restaurant franchise?

Apparently so:  check out the video below, in which the late Vic Chesnutt restores heart, soul, guts, lungs & other vital organs to “Ruby Tuesday,” a song he covered often in his career.  Mr Chesnutt’s version won’t appeal to everyone, but to my mind it’s transcendent.  By the way, the volume is very low thru the first verse but comes up to normal when the whole band enters for the first chorus.

The photo of a Ruby Tuesday restaurant is by Wiki Commons user Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license. & is published under the Creative Commons


  1. To my shame, I'd never heard of Vic Chestnutt. That is one powerful version of Ruby Tuesday - love the contrast between verse and chorus.
    Regarding songs becoming jingles, it breaks my heart and rather insults my intelligence to see bona fide artists like Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop and Johnny Rotten advertising insurance or butter or whatever.

  2. Traveler's Insurance is using Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble"... it's a rather cute ad and well done, so I'll forgive 'em :)

  3. Hi Peter & Rene

    Peter: But just think--now you have the chance to check out VC's work, which is pretty uniformly great. Thinking of Iggy Pop songs on ads is even far more depressing to me than thinking of Beatles or Stones songs, I must say--have always been a punk at heart.

    Rene: You're allowed! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I've heard the name, Vic Chesnutt, John, but never heard his work. Thanks for the intro.

  5. Hi, John. Just wondering if you had seen either of these posts on the PBS Art Beat blog. One is titled From Himalayas to Appalachia and the other is Abigail Washburn Uses Banjo as Tool for Diplomacy.


  6. That's certainly an interesting version of "Ruby Tuesday"! I never heard of Vic Chesnutt, either, so thanks from here as well.

    The maker of the CSI TV franchise has an affinity for The Who: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the original series, uses "Who Are You" as its theme song; CSI: NY uses "Baba O'Reilly"; and CSI: Miami, the newest addition to the franchise, uses "We Won't Be Fooled Again". Whoever did the choosing of theme songs for the franchise is definitely a person of exquisite taste!

  7. Hi Lorenzo & Roy

    Lorenzo: Thanks for the tip--no, I don't know those documentaries, but I'd love to see them. I'm quite interested in Abigail Washburn's work, tho I don't know it well. Thanks!

    Roy: Glad to introduce you to Vic Chesnutt. I've been a long time fan & was very saddened by his death in 09. See, I have no problem at all with using songs in dramatic works--I think of the Hank Williams soundtrack in Last Picture show--how perfect!

  8. Perhaps the appropriation of the music is part of the aura of the music (like Warhol's art, with its logos, etc.)?

    I heard a funny comedy sketch once (who did it? don't know) in which a group of classical composers (Bach, Handel, Mozart, etc) were sat around in heaven listening to the sound of commercials drifting up from earth and moaning bitterly about the royalties they'd missed out on. You've got me wondering who did it, and if it's out there on Youtube!

  9. Hi Dominic: That sounds like a fun skit. Eberle has the theory that there's something about the commodification of rock music & rock stardom that has encoded this type of appropriation right from the get-go, even when these musicians were to a greater or lesser degree "outlaws." While I don't hold the theory quite so absolutely as Eberle does, I do agree with a lot of its general points. I would say--& as it turns out, Eberle agrees--that Chesnutt's performance of the song resists commodification, & that Chesnutt's whole presence resists commodification even more. Anyway, I think it's a discussion worth having as rock has become the cultural mainstream.

  10. "I do agree with a lot of its general points." From what you say, so do I. There have been a lot of "celebrity-outlaws", going right back to Robin Hood and beyond, but there's often a contradiction there (like one, in a sense, should be the opposite of the other). Music provides a great opportunity to adopt "outlaw" as a stage-persona. In fact, your fans can just assume your an "outlaw", based on the effect of your music. Who'd have put Mo Tucker at a Tea Party gig? She probably felt that way all along, and had a perfect right to - even if I disagree with her!

    I could go rambling on (should Che be on T shirts, etc). But it's gone 1am! I better get off...

  11. Oh, someone's probably beaten me to it, but Iggy Pop's, "Lust For Life" will never bring anything to mind apart from cruise ships (something to which I have a keen aversion).

    I had an ancient, hard as a rock copy of the Stones, "High Tides and Green Grass" album until it was stolen. Love, "Paint it Black" and "Get Offa My Cloud"

    Going to listen to Vic again now.


  12. The video wasn't working, so I went to YouTube. Happened to see that he did a version of "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia". That was my first 45, so I had to listen. Loved it!

    I found the Ruby Tuesday a bit slow for my coffee-amped brain, but I'm sure with a glass of red, I'd feel differently.


  13. A fascinating two-and-fro, John and Dominic. And I love the Vic Chestnutt. Another sad passing.

    When I was a kid the ultimately pejorative adjective characterising a piece of music was 'commercial'. So even way back then when rock-and-roll was Elvis and all points of the compass beyond and you just listened to and/or danced to it, we had a notion of ownership. The '60s and '70s saw it become the engine room of a huge cultural explosion and the sense of the music being our exclusive lingua franca was total.

    So something almost visceral in me revolts against its appropriation by commerce. To a greater or lesser extent for me all of the great songs have profound associations to do with personal contexts far removed from the world of commodities and their more effective marketing. And so it will be until this old anarchist finally crosses to the dark side and becomes a miserable old git who thinks that hanging and flogging are soft options!

  14. Hi Martin, Dominic,Kat & Dick

    Martin: Glad to introduce you! Hope you enjoy more of VC's work!

    Dominic: Of course, I think an argument like Eberle's could be extended to say that any image on a t shirt--even Che--becomes a commodity. Deep questions--good for 1:00 a.m.

    Kat: As they used to say about cool jazz ballads--so slow you can't find the "one" (the downbeat)! Vic Chesnutt is not to everyone's taste, but I'm all for anyone who's willing to wear his/her heart on their sleeve, & have been a fan of his music since the early 90s.

    Dick: I really go back & forth on "classic rock," because I do think there's more than a bit of truth in the idea that the commodification was already encoded. On the other hand, I still like some of the songs quite a bit--interesting to see which ones have stood the test of time to my ear. Dylan always stands out, as does the Band (tho the Weight--horror of horrors--has been used in an ad). I guess the more rootsy stuff, tho the blues rock mostly doesn't resonate with me at all anymore (Allmans, Cream etc.) My love/hate affair w/the Fab Four is almost on a par with my love/hate affair w/TS Eliot!


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